2007 is shaping up to be an interesting year for the tens of thousands of people who will be displaced by the recent completion of the highly controversial Sardar Sarovar dam in India. The Sardar Sarovar is the largest of a series of 30 large dams proposed for the Narmada River, India’s fifth largest river. The project was started in 1987 but was delayed for many years by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (“Save the Narmada”) movement and its supporters, as well as by conflicts between various Indian states over how to divide the benefits of the dam. The NBA is a grassroots movement to defend the rights of the 320,000 people who have been or will be displaced by the project. According to the Friends of the River Narmada (http://www.narmada.org/sardarsarovar.html), the NBA managed to convince the World Bank, which was at one time funding $450 million for dam construction, to commission an independent review of the project; the review report supported the NBA’s main concerns ultimately caused the bank to withdraw its support.
The Indian government claims that the dam will irrigate 1.8 million hectares of farmland, provide drinking water for 20 million people, and generate 1,450 MW of peak power (http://www.dailyindia.com/show/99695.php/Controversial-Sardar-Sarovar-Dam-against-tribal-interests:-Medha-Patkar). Whether or not these benefits will actually be realized is also highly controversial, but there is certainly no denying that the states that would benefit from irrigation and drinking water from the dam are extremely dry and in need of additional water supplies. Even so, it does not follow that a mega-dam is the best way to meet those needs. Rainwater harvesting, including bringing back traditional rural methods of rainwater catchment, has proven to work well in these drought-prone areas, providing enough water to meet rural needs without drawing down the water table. (http://www.goodnewsindia.com/Pages/content/conservation/drought.htm).
As of the beginning of 2006, the dam had already been constructed to a height of 111 meters; Dec 31, 2006 marked the completion of the project, at a final height of 122 meters. This additional 11 meter height increase is estimated to displace 35,000 families, according to the United Nations (http://www.narmada.org/misc/unhcr.html). In 2000, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that further height increases would not be allowed until the government had proved that previously displaced people had been compensated. However, according to the UN, this has not occurred; many of the people who were previously displaced, largely indigenous people and farmers, have yet to receive adequate rehabilitation and arable land.